Thursday, May 21, 2015
Is Facebook Killing Online Automotive Forums?
By Andy Lilienthal
Online forum sites have been a gathering place for gearheads since the Internet has been able to have forum sites. Before the popularity of the modern forum there were online interest groups and mailing lists. In the mid-to-late 1990s, I even ran a message board about the Mitsubishi Expo LRV and I was a subscriber to the Nissan SR20DE mailing list. But in the late 1990s, I got hooked on online automotive forums. I loved the sense of community and interaction; the ability to have people help with problems or installations; sharing stories and photos. Frankly, I still belong to an embarrassingly high number of automotive forum sites as they're still a knowledge base for all things automotive. They can be information goldmines, although some require digging deep through online drama to reach the useful bits. Regardless, for more than 15 years, web-based automotive forums have long been the places to go for online car enthusiasm. But that might be changing.
Recently I noticed a drop in online forum participation on a couple of the sites I frequent, including Scionlife.com, Yarisworld.com, and Zukiworld.com. At first I didn't really think much of it. The Scion brand has been going through some changes; the Toyota Yaris isn't selling like it did in 2007, and Suzukis are a very niche brand, even more so since the company left North America. I decided to chalk my observed decline in activity up to those factors. That was until my friend, Justin, mentioned how he thought Facebook was killing online forums. It dawned on me that perhaps certain forum sites were being affected by Facebook's popularity, and not in a good way. While some forums may have setup a Facebook page or group to help their website get traffic, it could be adversely changing them. Suddenly I realized that Justin was probably right. It got me to thinking: Is Facebook killing online automotive forums?
In thinking about what Justin had said at dinner that night, I remembered an experience I had. I was working on my Suzuki Sidekick and came to a problem I couldn't figure out. The first stop was to Zukiworld.com for some advice. I posted up my question and waited for an answer. Ten minutes went by with nothing. Twenty minutes—still nothing. Wanting an answer quickly, as I was losing daylight and my truck was in pieces, I headed to the fast-moving Zukiworld Online Facebook Group. I posted up my question and in a few minutes, I had responses and I was on my way back to the driveway to wrap up my repairs.
So here's the thing about Facebook: There are more than 1.44 billion people on the site as of March 31, 2015. Of that, there are 1.25 billion mobile monthly active users. (Source: Facebook) That means there are a lot of people who have Facebook's ubiquitous mobile app turned on all the time, which means quick responses to questions and seemingly instant feedback in groups and on pages.
"Initially we saw an uptick in traffic as we were early adopters of Facebook’s group accounts," says Eric. "We got good traction from posting facts, info, and the like that would direct people back to our website. The events tab worked well too; driving people to our website to get details on upcoming events."
But Eric said that at some point, posts and events seem to instantly get lost into cyberspace and the ability to get people engaged and discussing—exploring the Zukiworld website—became greatly diminished.
"We also believe that the switch to mobile devices from PC has really cut the legs out from forum software packages," Eric said. "We use Tapatalk to make the interface better for mobile users, but that app, and a custom one if we were to offer it, are hard to find in either of the app stores which provides us with another set of challenges to overcome."
Despite the downturn, Eric says the one area they see strong continuing numbers is for editorial content, which includes travel stories, tech articles, reviews, etc.; content that is generated by a perceived credible resource still draws solid numbers. Eric says this kind of content may be the only future for independent publishers.
I have personally noticed that Yarisworld.com has had less interaction and posting over the last couple of years. That being said, there are numerous Toyota Yaris/Vitz-related groups on Facebook that offer up lots of pictures, repair advice, and community.
Another advantage Facebook has for enthusiast groups is the fact that there is no need to create a unique user name and password, as it's all integrated into the platform—simply "like" the page or join the group and you're in. Plus, there's no worrying about hosting photos or videos, either.
Whether it's small cars or full-sized trucks, Fords or Ferraris, the decline in automotive forum activity doesn't appear to be an isolated incident, as I've read accounts of this happening on various forum sites, while the numbers in many of the Facebook groups continue to rise. Perhaps we're in the midst of the next great online shift in gearhead community, much like when we went from mailing lists to forum sites. And while I think there will always be a place for automotive community websites out there, their focus and content may evolve into something other than it currently is.